β€œNew York (CNN Business) – Bad news for people who frequently use the πŸ˜‚ emoji: It is no longer cool.”

Really? In the middle of the latest polar vortex which is brutalizing huge swaths of my country, an absolutely certain indicator of every dire climate change prediction, emoji usage is taking up people’s mental space? The nation is fractured, threatened by domestic terrorism and foreign cyber attacks. Emojis??? I have nothing for this.

A post-Valentine’s Day commentary. Ok. I’ll admit that watching all the social media posts about how you met your Valentine, and all the flowers and candy photos that people had received, made me feel a little lonely and blue. But here’s the truth. First, I’d already anticipated how I might feel on one of these classic emotional trigger days and had pre-emptively bought myself roses when I was shopping for my grandsons’ valentine gifts. More importantly, Valentine’s Day, roses, Michael and I, had our own unique years-long history. After crashing into each other’s lives in youthful cosmic mad love, after a few years we had to work out some life details. Both of us had anarchistic attitudes which sometimes coincided and sometimes didn’t. Michael hated the artificiality of Valentine’s Day which he viewed as a phony event established by a capitalist cabal of florists and greeting card companies. The idea of declaring your love on a day selected by a bunch of bureaucrats rubbed him the wrong way. He wanted to give me flowers when he felt like it or when there was a reason specific to us. I wasn’t such a hardliner. He always acknowledged the day and especially enjoyed the practice of buying a card designated as β€œget well” or β€œthanks” which he altered into a Valentine’s greeting. Flowers were rare. I got used to his quirky ways. I always got roses for our wedding anniversary, one for each year and one for the year to come. That’s when my quirk came in. My favorite roses were the peach color, which always had the most delicious sweet smell.

Michael preferred red ones. I always wanted to be gracious about receiving a gift but as years went by, I explained to him that red roses had been so overbred for petal numbers, structure or whatever, that they’d lost their scent and often wilted within a day or two. Michael remained Michael, so red roses it was through the decades for anniversaries and birthdays. He often gave me mixed blooms for just because, always a lovely surprise.

This rose disagreement soon became part of our family lexicon. One year when my son was working abroad, Valentine’s Day rolled around. There was a knock on my door and I opened it to a guy dressed in a tuxedo who sang a little ditty and presented me with a dozen peachy roses. I ran to thank Michael who said he hadn’t sent them. I found a small card tucked in the midst of the bouquet – they were a thoughtful gift from my kid who knew I pined for them. Michael was glad for me and kept on with the red ones for the rest of his life.

The one above is from our wedding anniversary in 2001 when we were on a cruise. I never figured out how he pulled that off as we sat in a small bistro on the ship for a special meal. He wound up sliding a ring box across the table. Always his own person, I appreciated the thoughtful things he did for me, in his own particular way. The world’s best present-giver.

When I was planning the exhibit in honor of his life in 2017, I ordered a floral arrangement for the table in the entry hall to the event. I couldn’t help myself – in the midst of the white flowers and the greens, you can see one red rose peeking out of the middle. An unforgettable little remembrance of my unique guy.

I’m still paying attention to politics which is a fundamental part of my daily life. But I think I’m in a strange withdrawal from the overwhelming weight of the past six years, from the 2015 campaign through the 2016 election and the Trump presidency. Always watching, waiting for the next infuriating, crazy event to happen is significantly different from your average attention to current events. Obviously things are still wacky, especially with the incessant pandemic looming over my narrow little world. After the family deaths in which I was a daily caregiver, I would intermittently startle like an unswaddled baby, feeling insecure out in the world. I have vestiges of that now. Just wondering if that will improve after the mentality required to survive these past years.

I’m working on getting an in-depth understanding of the different pronoun usages which are being employed to describe a more fluid sense of gender than what was once accepted. I want to be respectful and mindful about what other people need for their sense of both acceptance and safety. Sometimes things seem to be moving faster than I can keep up, or perhaps my exposure is limited by the constraints of the pandemic. In any case, I’m trying.

I’ve been a sports fan since I was a little kid, looking for a way to be close to my dad who frequently watched his games by himself. I learned about American staples, baseball, football and basketball. Eventually I was reading the biographies of athletes and expanding my interest to include hockey, tennis, volleyball and all things Olympics. I loved college sports. My interest was enduring. I enjoyed participating in softball, volleyball and swimming, and took some tennis lessons. Recently though, I’ve realized that I’ve lost focus on what were the familiar touchstones of so many years of my life. I still watch tennis but everything else has fallen off my radar.

Lately I find myself awake in the dead of night watching odd sports like biathlon, agility competitions, skiing and snowboarding. There are so many niches in this world with dedicated enthusiasts for all of them. I did watch the Super Bowl, drawn in by the drama of the young superstar versus the seasoned champion. I’m wondering about how everything changed for me, without my really noticing. Maybe if the Olympics happen later this year, I’ll refocus my attention. Or maybe I’m not willing to commit myself to being an inactive observer of too many activities that were once an easy release from years of work and raising a family, not to mention the caregiving years. I guess I’ll find out if the post-pandemic time will precipitate a change. If there ever is a post-pandemic.

I’ve been wrangling with myself about my beloved cardinal pair, Pumpkin and Carmine. My family who have no idea they’ve become my family. As with everyone we love, the time comes when you’re aware that doing without them will be truly painful. I’m always aware that these are wild animals. To date, aside from putting feeders a little closer to my house so I can observe them up close, I’ve done nothing to engage them in any way resembling attempted domestication. But it’s a struggle. The average life expectancy for a cardinal in the wild is about three years. Some can live much longer. In captivity, they can survive for a few decades. My son is a bird biologist who’s caught, banded and released countless birds. The other day I laughingly asked him if it was totally wrong for me to set up his mist nets, and haul my pair in so I could put them in a large flight cage and take care of them as pets. Except I wasn’t really kidding, mostly, and he gently responded that yes, it would be wrong. I have to stay on the right side of nature and understand that love doesn’t include fiddling with wild animals unless your motivation is helping heal a wound or the like. I can’t confine them to heal my wounds. But I’d be lying if I said my anticipatory grief over their future absence wasn’t already a real thing to me. Looking my human frailty in the face. I wish I was better at avoidance behavior.

Bird footprints on my porch.

So those are a few of my little stories from the polar vortex, the frozen tundra of the midwest. I definitely will leave the full climate change conversation for another day.

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